OPINION

Opinion: Different year, same story as Big Labor promotes Black Friday protests

FILE - in this Nov. 13, 2012 photo a worker pulls a line of shopping carts toward a Wal-Mart store in North Kingstown, R.I.  Wal-Mart reported improved customer traffic and an uptick in a key sales figure as it topped earnings expectations in the third quarter, even as a stronger dollar pressured its performance overseas. Its shares edged up more than 2 percent in premarket trading Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015 after it detailed results from the quarter that ended Oct. 31. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

FILE - in this Nov. 13, 2012 photo a worker pulls a line of shopping carts toward a Wal-Mart store in North Kingstown, R.I. Wal-Mart reported improved customer traffic and an uptick in a key sales figure as it topped earnings expectations in the third quarter, even as a stronger dollar pressured its performance overseas. Its shares edged up more than 2 percent in premarket trading Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015 after it detailed results from the quarter that ended Oct. 31. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)  (ap)

With protests planned at the reopening of the Pico Rivera Walmart in California and at stores around the country on Black Friday, it’s important to once again examine the origins of these supposedly grassroots demonstrations. 

On November 19, the front group OUR Walmart led a “Fairness for Pico Workers” rally at the site of the new Pico Rivera Walmart. Separately, an OUR Walmart splinter group led by a former United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) top official has launched a national 15-day protest through Black Friday in order to promote raising the minimum wage to $15.

These tactics, while desperate and futile, are nothing new.

OUR Walmart has been known to pay protestors to picket and organizers have admitted that most of the demonstrators are not actually employed by Walmart. Along with harassing workers and impeding operations, the group fabricates success, claiming that, thanks to their work, “X” number of Walmart workers walked off the job in protest.

- Hector Barreto

The UFCW and the orchestrators behind the “Fight for $15” campaign – the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) – have tried unsuccessfully for years to unionize Walmart workers. The two unions are no strangers to working together on coordinated campaigns. In fact, both OUR Walmart and the entire premise of the “Fight for $15” campaign are financially sustained by Big Labor — and recent reports show that the SEIU funded the “Fight for $15” campaign to the tune of $80 million over the past three years.

These demonstrations aren’t about benefiting Walmart workers, but are instead about padding rapidly declining union membership rolls. In fact, they rarely even involve Walmart workers themselves. 

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OUR Walmart has been known to pay protestors to picket and organizers have admitted that most of the demonstrators are not actually employed by Walmart. Along with harassing workers and impeding operations, the group fabricates success, claiming that, thanks to their work, “X” number of Walmart workers walked off the job in protest. Not once has this been true. These things do not happen. Other than protesting for publicity, OUR Walmart has made zero inroads in winning over Walmart workers because OUR Walmart simply doesn’t represent their views. Not to be deterred, unfortunately that won’t stop them from their Black Friday shenanigans again this year.

Top labor officials have admitted that the end goal of OUR Walmart is to pave the way for unionization of Walmart workers, while the group continues to skirt the rules as to whether OUR Walmart’s activities qualify as official organizing drives. Indeed, labor scholars have praised these covert attempts orchestrated by front groups as a new model for national organizing, calling it “minority unionism.”

This year, OUR Walmart is desperate to make a big splash. After months of speculation about the splinter in and dissolution of the group, it’s currently unclear who is actually in charge. Originally a subsidiary of the UFCW, earlier this year new UFCW leadership fired OUR Walmart’s longtime leaders, Dan Schlademan and Andrea Dehlendorf, and cut the group’s funding in half. That’s when the UFCW’s parent organization, the AFL-CIO stepped in. But that didn’t stop the two former leaders, Schlademan and Dehlendorf, from running their own independent campaign, now called “Help Change Walmart,” in what Politico likens to the Great Western Schism. As with the current state of “disorganized” labor, it’s incredibly confusing just who runs the show – but it’s certainly not the good employees of Walmart.

As unions continue to struggle to turn protestors into card-carrying union members, but sink millions into these guerrilla campaigns, where does that leave their actual membership? Unionized employees fork over thousands in dues to bankroll “Fight for $15” or “Our Walmart” campaigns but aren’t reaping the benefits. Indeed, if anything, members are beginning to realize that organized labor’s outdated business model no longer works, leading to the lowest private sector union participation rate in decades. We can only assume that as membership continues to decline, Big Labor’s tactics will continue to get more extreme and desperate. What lows will they sink to next?

Hector Barreto is the chairman of The Latino Coalition and the former U.S. Small Business Administrator. He has invited both presidential campaigns to send a representative to The Latino Coalition's West Coast Small Business Summit.

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